Helah Robinson

Helah Robinson (Vital Voices in Cameroon): Helah did her undergraduate degree at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She graduated in 2009. During her studies, Helah studied in Dakar, Senegal for five months, traveled to Guinea and the Gambia and volunteered with the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO) in 2008. She also interned with Vital Voices Global Partnership. After her fellowship, Helah wrote: “As cliché as it sounds, this summer was truly a life changing experience. I learned not only new skills and how to work in varying environments, but much about myself as well. How I interact with people, work best with others and more. Furthermore, in a more practical sense, I had no video, editing, much interviewing or blogging experience before this summer. Now, I have developed those skills in addition to experience working abroad and more practice in a foreign language. I feel I am more capable, confident and equipped to do real substantial work.”

Women of the North West: Part I, Nkum

10 Aug

Though long overdue, the following series of posts document meetings Johanna and I have had over the last few weeks…

The North West Province of Cameroon is separated into 7 separate divisions, and NFF reached out to each during its HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. Drawing women leaders from the many groups across the province, NFF trained key stakeholders in each community calling on women to take the lead in addressing the rampant spread of the disease.

What we learned after sitting down with representatives from a few of the divisions, in three parts:

I. The Women of Nkum

Women of Nkum

Two weeks ago, Johanna and I traveled to Tatum, the council seat for the Nkum division, to meet with the Deputy Mayor who had been trained at an NFF workshop last year. Taking what he learned from the sensitization seminars back to his division, the Deputy Mayor passed on the information to several leaders of women’s groups across Nkum. Among them (grant me some leniency with the spellings) were Fajimatou and Ngoram Salaamatou from the Salaama group of Tatum and Miro Dodo, representative from the village of Mboscuda (Women pictured above, left to right respectively). Aja Salaamatou, from the village of Kuvlu and who also attended the Deputy Mayor’s training session, joined us later.

The women from the Nkum region represented a unique sector of Cameroonian society—the Muslim population. Primarily Fulani women, connecting with them during the HIV/AIDS awareness campaign was critical to addressing the varying cultural differences present across the province. During our discussion, the women outlined how the training played out, what they learned and their ideas for improving the program.

Aja Salaamatou from Kuvlu

Following their training session with the Deputy Mayor of Nkum, the women traveled back to their proper communities and shared their new knowledge. They also gathered women from neighboring villages to disseminate the information to regions that had not had the opportunity to send representatives to the Nkum training. In this way, the NFF sensitization workshops had widespread and exponentially increasing coverage as both trainers and trainees extended their advocacy base. At their meetings, the Nkum representatives encouraged rural women to go for regular check-ups and testing, cautioned against continuing widowhood inheritance practices* and advised them to bring their own tools when visiting traditional healers (who commonly use and reuse blades to pierce skin and draw blood).

Women of Nkum

As far as improvements for the trainings were concerned, the women called mainly for expanding the program’s reach. First, they noted that children need to be well informed and future workshops should reach out more to youths. Additionally, they needed more advocacy materials (i.e. posters pictured above), which would have been that much more useful translated in local languages, namely Pidgin.

Tackling cultural practices and believes is a difficult endeavor and will not be done overnight. The efforts Nkumu Fed Fed has put into motion, reaching far into the North West Province with the help of these women of Nkum, however, is starting to make change.

* Traditionally, the brother of the deceased will ‘inherit’ the widow, taking her on as a new wife. Problems arise when, for example, the cause of death is unknown and the widow risks bringing the disease into the new marriage.

Posted By Helah Robinson

Posted Aug 10th, 2009

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